What is Self-Harm?

Many people wonder what is self-harm and how it differs from attempted suicide. Although anyone can harm themselves intentionally, it is more common in girls and women. This behavior typically starts around the teenage years, and it may continue well into adulthood.

Related resource: Ranking Top 30 Public Ivies Offering a Degree in Psychology

Definition of Self-harm

Self-harm, or self-injury, happens when a person deliberately hurts themselves without trying to commit suicide. Self-harm is not meant to end one’s life. The act of self-harming offers a temporary release from those feelings, but it is often followed up by even stronger feelings of shame and guilt.

How People Self-harm

There are many ways in which people may intentionally injure themselves. Most people who self-harm begin by picking at sores or picking at their skin. They may progress to cutting themselves with sharp instruments such as razor blades or scissors. Other methods of self-harm include hitting oneself with objects or against immovable objects such as a wall. Some people punch themselves. People who self-injure may pierce their skin with objects or insert objects under the skin. Others will repeatedly rub the area in order to create a burn-like injury. Burning with matches, cigarettes or cookware is another method of self-harm. In many cases, people who self-harm will progress from scratching or picking to more injurious behaviors such as head banging, piercing and burning. This is because it eventually takes a more serious injury in order to provide the desired level of relief from the strong emotions that trigger the behavior.

Physical Signs of Self-harm

Friends, family, teachers, and others may notice signs of self-harm. A person with an unusual number of bandages on their arms or legs could be self-harming. New bruises and a lot of bruises that are in various stages of healing could also indicate self-harm, explains the Mayo Clinic. There may be a pattern of scars on or around a particular area of the body, such as the left forearm of a person who is right-handed. New bite marks, sores, scabs and scratches that are excessive and paired with other injuries or unusual behavior could also indicate self-harm.

Behaviors Associated With Self-harm

People who self-harm often feel embarrassed or shameful about their conditions. They may demonstrate this embarrassment or shame through certain behaviors. Many people who self-harm will wear long-sleeve shirts or pants year-round, even in hot weather. They might resist wearing a bathing suit or changing clothes in front of other people. People who self-harm may make statements of feeling helpless, worthless or useless. Their behavior may be impulsive or erratic. When asked about their injuries, the person may brush them off as an accident or come up with an implausible story about how the injury occurred. As self-harm escalates, the person may isolate themselves from friends and family.

Most people who intentionally harm themselves are trying to cope with strong emotions such as anger, frustration, and anguish. They may also use self-harm as a means of coping with physical pain caused by sexual abuse or assault. Parents, teachers, families, and friends should all be on the lookout for the symptoms of self-harm so that they can offer support and help to anyone with this problem. Understanding what self-harm is makes it easier to find help for a person who performs this behavior.